Silverado Partners with NBC News for Russia-Ukraine Tabletop Exercise
Top national security leaders discuss the options that are available to the U.S. in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Silverado Policy Accelerator Co-founder and Executive Chairman Dmitri Alperovitch along with NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and Chief Washington Correspondent Andrea Mitchell takes us behind the scenes of the kind of tabletop exercise that Biden officials have been using, based on the latest intelligence, to understand Putin’s next moves and create a playbook for the U.S. and allies to respond.
Earlier this week on Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC and NBC Nightly News, Mitchell was joined by Alperovitch and a team of top former military and national security officials to game out simulated scenarios, moves and countermoves, including:
- Retired General David Petraeus, former CIA director and former commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan
- Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff
- Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy
- Tom Donilon, former national security adviser to President Barack Obama
- Samuel Charap, a Russia expert and senior political scientist at the Rand corporation, who served as a senior advisor to the secretary of state's policy planning staff
See below for extended text highlights of the conversation and video links along with a full rush transcript. Portions of the conversations aired today on Andrea Mitchell Reports on MSNBC and on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.
VIDEO LINK: Ukraine Crisis: Top former U.S. officials game out approach to Putin’s next moves
VIDEO LINK: What could get Putin looking for a Ukraine exit strategy
PLEASE CREDIT: Silverado Policy Accelerator’s Dmitri Alperovitch and NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell
Former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon weights in on a scenario in which Russian state television airs reports of shelling in Donbas, Eastern Ukraine, and claim that the Ukrainian military is preparing a massive offensive against the Donbas and announce that Russia has no choice but to exercise its right of self-defense: “Our goals I think should be to build out a case here that is clear to Putin as to what the cost is going to be for action that he might take”
DONILON: I think that the U.S. options are – objectives here are pretty clear. One is to prevent a war in the heart of Europe and to deter the Russians from escalating this into a full-fledged war in Ukraine. Second, it is to defend – articulate and defend the key principles that are at stake here, which is the sovereignty of borders and the right of a country to make its choice as to where it aligns itself and how it conducts its business. These are the principles that have kept the peace in Europe for over half a century, three-quarters of a century almost. I think to demonstrate unity in the face of this – of this challenge, particularly among NATO and our European allies. To focus really tightly and we can talk to our colleagues here about how to do that on the security issues that are -- the Central and European colleagues of NATO are going to have. And I think most importantly two last things our goals I think should be to build out a case here that is clear to Putin as to what the cost is going to be for action that he might take here. And the last thing I’d mention is to really concentrate quite tightly, as Sam was alluding to, on controlling the information space.
On what the U.S. could do to punish Russia in a scenario where they invade Ukraine, leading to a war in Europe, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy says: “I can't emphasize the importance of energy sanctions. Energy accounts for something like 36 percent of the Russian budget, almost 50 percent of its Russian exports, so a huge vulnerability for Putin”
FLOURNOY: I would start by saying we absolutely have to counter the Russian narrative, reveal as much as possible in terms of what actually happened. Call this what it is, which is an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country in the middle of Europe. In addition, really ramp up the diplomacy to try to make sure that we are responding together with our allies, shoulder to shoulder as much as possible. On sanctions, I think Sam laid out a good list. I can't emphasize the importance of energy sanctions. Energy accounts for something like 36 percent of the Russian budget, almost 50 percent of its Russian exports, so a huge vulnerability for Putin.
On a possible long-term standoff with Russia, Admiral Mike Mullen says: “I think it would be foolish to think he [Putin] couldn't sustain it for a significant period of time.” General David Petraeus adds: “It's going to be about how many bodies are coming back to Moscow and to Russia. It's going to be about the perception of his population as to whether this is actually succeeding on the ground in Ukraine or not”
DONILON: Putin is -- seeking to upend the security order that's been in place since World War II. And we have to be crystal clear about. Now, we may get in a situation, and it may be a likelihood that we are in a standoff, right, with Russia over the long haul and then we have to start to think about security arrangements of the kind that you do with adversaries. And this is something -- it's an important discussion --
MITCHELL: How long can he sustain that troop formation on these borders?
MULLEN: Longer than we think. That's been my take on him for a long time. We -- we've -- we apply western metrics to an individual like him and we say the economy's going to go south, the demographics are bad, he can't - he can't keep doing this. He -- longer than we think. Not forever, for sure, but I think it would be foolish to think he couldn't sustain it for a significant period of time.
PETRAEUS: Which is why, again, the cost has to be driven home… Really, it's going to be about how many bodies are coming back to Moscow and to Russia. It's going to be about the perception of his population as to whether this is actually succeeding on the ground in Ukraine or not. Was this a wise decision? Those kinds of issues, I think, are going to be what are swirling in the population.
RUSH FULL TRANSCRIPT:
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: We think as many as 130,000 Russian troops mass on Ukraine's borders. And Russian warships forming a de facto naval blockade in the Black Sea. The U.S. says, if he chooses, Vladimir Putin could launch an invasion with no notice at any time.
Despite claims, there is no proof that some of his troops are pulling back. He remains poised to launch the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II. The White House National Security Council could soon be faced with life or death decisions, staring down a potential war on the doorstep of a NATO alliance.
We want to take you behind the scenes to see how top Biden officials have been using intelligence to game Putin's moves and create a playbook for the U.S. and allies to respond.
To do that, we have gathered top former political and national security officials who've all served at every level of government and understand how the options and unintended consequences from their decisions can affect our nation and the world.
You'll see the kind of tabletop exercise the National Security Council has, in fact, been conducting, gaming out scenarios, moves and countermoves, trying to prepare for any eventuality.
At the table today, I am joined by retired General David Petraeus, former CIA Director and former Commander of NATO and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan; retired Admiral Mike Mullin, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and Tom Donilon, former National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama.
And we are also joined by Samuel Charap, a Russia expert and senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation who served as a senior advisor to the secretary of state’s policy planning staff.
And crafting this exercise is Dmitri Alperovitch, an expert on Russia and the head of the Silverado Policy Accelerator think tank, a non-profit.
Dimitri, can you lay out the scenario for our round table? What are we facing?
DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, HEAD OF THE SILVERADO POLICY ACCELERATOR THINK TANK: Absolutely. Here is the scenario. Russian state televisions airs reports of shelling of separatist health (ph) city of Donetsk in Donbas, Eastern Ukraine with images of dead civilians and destroyed homes.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, says, “This was a deliberate atrocity ordered by President Zelensky and the war mongers in Kiev backed by the United States.” The Russian Ministry of Defense releases satellite photos which they claim prove that the Ukrainian military is preparing a massive offensive against the Donbas.
Following a meeting of Russia’s Security Counsel, the Kremlin issues the following statement from President Putin. “We’re deeply disappointed in the failure of diplomacy with our Western partners and we condemn them for recklessly flooding weapons into Ukraine and fanning the flames of aggression. Russia has no choice but to exercise its right of self-defense under the U.N. Charter to ensure the security of Russian citizens and of our borders.”
So this is the serious situation we’re facing today. Sam, as a Russian national security expert, what do you recommend to our principals here at the table?
Thank you, Sam. Alright principals, what say you about what the U.S. objectives are at this stage and what recommendations you would have for the president of the United States?
TOM DONILON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I’m happy to start. I think that the U.S. options are – objectives here are pretty clear. One is to prevent a war in the heart of Europe and to deter the Russians from escalating this into a full-fledged war in Ukraine.
Second, it is to defend – articulate and defend the key principles that are at stake here, which is the sovereignty of borders and the right of a country to make its choice as to where it aligns itself and how it conducts its business. These are the principles that have kept the peace in Europe for over half a century, three-quarters of a century almost. I think to demonstrate unity in the face of this – of this challenge, particularly among NATO and our European allies.
To focus really tightly and we can talk to our colleagues here about how to do that on the security issues that are -- the Central and European colleagues of NATO are going to have. And I think most importantly two last things (INAUDIBLE) our goals I think should be to build out a case here that is clear to Putin as to what the cost is going to be for action that he might take here.
And the last thing I’d mention is to really concentrate quite tightly, as Sam was alluding to, on controlling the information space. Now on both true (ph) kind of rebutting what the Russians have put out here, there’s a long history here of Russians using this information, particularly in this – in around – in and around Ukraine but not just there, in Syria as well, and elsewhere around the world.
It’s a long history here we can rebut but also it’s interesting we should discuss this with Dave and others is also preempt what we might see the Russians attempting to undertake. I think that’s the kind of comprehensive package that we need to think about in terms of understanding U.S. interest.
MICHELE FLOURNOY, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR POLICY: Yes, I would just add, I think it’s very important to undercut the Russian narrative of some kind of provocation that justifies their intervention. So revealing as much intelligence and information as we can to basically say, look, this is – this is a lie, this is misinformation, don’t buy it.
A strong warning to Putin publicly, but I would go farther than the U.N. Security Counsel because Russia sits on that counsel, they’re going to veto anything that comes out. We can go to the U.N. General Assembly for a vote. We could also, I think, convene NATO using Article IV, which is anytime there’s a grave threat to peace and security in Europe, we convene NATO for consultation. I would encourage the E.U. to do the same.
And so what you end up, you want to have a real solid consensus, a basis of unity for pushing back on this diplomatically and then more as needed. I do think there are a host of additional measures that might be taken to bolster our assistance to the Ukraine and deterrence of what the – our military experts address that.
But the last thing that hasn’t been mentioned is accelerating our preparations to deal with refugees. I mean, this is – this is the precursor to war and you’ve got to be ready for tens of thousands of Ukrainians to start moving across the border if they are, in fact, attacked.
ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I mean – and I would agree in particular with the objectives in – from the military perspective,
how do we immediately send Putin that this is going to cost him. And actually, there's a short-term piece here which everybody's focused on, I understand that.
But if Putin decides to go in, I think we really need to focus on the long-term price that he's going to pay and figure out how to do that. To include -- I mean, one of the near-term objectives would be to get the NATO Response Force ready.
And you can -- that's something that has to be voted on in the NATO Council, the NAC if you will, but doing that right away. And that would be one. Certainly, the U.S. has sent troops already and we can ready more troops to go specifically.
I think the comment about the disinformation/misinformation, which is, for these kinds of crises if you will, relatively new, and it's the kind of thing that we really -- I think we need to be much more proactive, if you will.
The one thing that certainly my experience shows with Russia and with Putin in particular is you really need to deal with him from a position of strength.
So how do we strengthen what we have? How do we add to it in terms of military capability, with the understanding we're not going to send anybody to fight this war? How can we continue to help?
We don't know what the timeline is, even though it looks shorter and shorter. Can we move more forces in, you know, as rapidly as possible to help?
And actually look at whether that presence would then be there actually long term. Because I think one of the things Putin has done has galvanized NATO in a way that NATO probably couldn't even galvanize itself because of this crisis.
And then across, sort of, the full spectrum of capabilities, is there a way to help the Ukrainian defense force, if you will. Whether it's information or up to kinetics from -- and from an advice standpoint, we can certainly do that.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, thanks for getting the band back together again in a much nicer setting actually, cheerier than the real Sit Room.
From a military commander and also CIA director perspective, obviously what we're trying to do is to help get the truth on the ground out. So we'll be using all the different sources and methods that we have for that imagery, would be a key element of this to show what actually is going on and working to support the State Department in doing that.
Supporting those who are going to the North Atlantic Council, trying to identify what do we think might happen now, where are the forces positioned. You know, having been part of an invasion of a country as a two-star division commander, we know what to look for.
The specific logistics elements are actually really key when they're pushed up -- when the refueling points for the helicopters are pushed right up to the border, you've got to watch for that. And again, we'll be trying to analyze where will the next moves be, what quarters, what axis of advance and so forth.
I'd add the European Union also, we would want to get them galvanized for this, again, to show that unity in addition to the North Atlantic Council of NATO.
And then beyond that, I think we should be working some back channel. Obviously, we've talked about the front channel, what we're saying publicly, what we're disclosing publicly and so forth. But I think this is a case where the Intelligence Community can have some back channel.
And we should be communicating to individuals in Moscow that life is going to be very, very tough for you if you go into Ukraine. You may be able to get all the way to Dnieper (ph) or all the way -- you might even push the government out of Kyiv. But at the end of the day, we're going to make life hell for you if that is the case.
And again, with some experience as a counterinsurgent, we'll tell them you don't have the numbers. What you have is not enough.
This is exactly what we invaded Iraq with, about 130,000 or more troops. It's nowhere near enough for a country that is multiples the size of Iraq. And that should be very clear.
In the meantime, we should be working very assiduously to make sure that all the assets that we have that we want to push in, again, clandestinely into Ukraine are present.
And finally, I think the Intelligence Community would be working really hard to determine what is President Zelensky going to do if the country is invaded? What are his plans? Will he go further west perhaps with his government?
Is he going to resist? Or is he going to, if you will, pull an Ashraf Ghani on us and actually just fly out of the country and allow it to collapse? The same thing about the military, and you have two key elements here. You have the conventional military, you know, are they going to fight?
If they get encircled, for example, which is one of the scenarios that’s a very real possibility, will they continue to fight from inside that circle? Or are they going to surrender? And what about the partisan brigades?
As you all know, there are dozens of partisan brigades, will they have the real will, the determination, the fortitude to resist? And again, to make life hell for Russian occupiers as we are telling our Russian counterparts will be the case.
DONILON: You know, can we transition for one second on this? Because I want to -- I disagree a little bit with something Sam said and reinforce something that General Petraeus said. I think that the -- that the sanctions package presented here needs to look very different than the past. This cannot look like the past President Putin --
PETRAEUS: Right. Right.
DONILON: -- or else it won’t deter. So I think that --
DONILON: -- any (INAUDIBLE) response package needs to look quite big, punishing, something that can be done quickly in a unified way. And I think if it’s not done that way, he won’t -- we’ll have -- we won’t deter.
So I think there has to be a very different look here and substance here than we’ve had in the past. The second thing I think to reinforce something that Dave said. It would be important, I think, to communicate directly to Putin and I would -- and I would have the --
PETRAEUS: Yes. Yes.
DONILON: -- president directly to Putin. Why is that? I think that leaders in the Russian – so he is the leader in the Russian system, I think, is isolated. I would worry as this progresses here about what kind of advice he’s getting, what kind of information he’s getting. And the best way to kind of deal with that may be direct conversation with him leader to leader.
PETRAEUS: And also going to Lavrov. Again, you want to get -- he is the one advisor that seems to be meeting with Putin on a reasonably regular basis. He’s been the face of this certainly in the foreign ministry front. And I think, again, direct communication to him about how difficult this would be.
DONILON: This has got to look big --
DONILON: -- on this front (ph).
MITCHELL: And we take a quick break. We’ve set out what could be happening, what the U.S. options are on the table. We’ll be back in a moment.
MITCHELL: Welcome back to our roundtable. Russia placed (ph) to invade. The National Security Council considering options. Dimitri, what happens if he crosses the line?
ALPEROVITCH: So the U.S. Intelligence Community identifies a large network of trolls on social media and fake websites that promote Russian narrative of Kyiv initiating this war. It attributes these activities with high degree of confidence to the GRU Russian military intelligence.
NRT Television crew reports live from a town in Eastern Ukraine where local survivors under protection of Russian forces show what appears to have been an intentional murder of civilians by retreating Ukrainian forces.
Putin issues a televised address to the nation stating the Ukrainian-armed formations backed by NATO Special Forces seek to commit genocide against the Russian people in Eastern Ukraine. I’ve warded (ph) Defense Minister Shoigu to protect the people of Donbas and deter ongoing threats to Russia.
I want to stress that this action is not directed against the Ukrainian people, our brothers and sisters, but against the Western-backed aggressors. For the last two months, our diplomats have conveyed our legitimate security concerns to the West. Unfortunately, we have not been listened to. They will now have to listen to our military.
The war begins with a multi-days devastating Russian long-range concentrated artillery, missile, and rocket barrage. Russian manned and unmanned aircraft strike Ukrainian defensive positions in the east, and effectively destroy the Ukraine Air Force and air defenses.
Air attacks target Internet exchange points in Kyiv and Kharkiv, taking the country largely offline and blacking out television and radio. Cell phone service goes out across much of Ukraine due to Russian electronic warfare. Russian combined armed forces cross into Ukraine from three directions.
From Belarus in the north, Klinsky and Belgrade in the east, and Crimea in the south. And with a pincer maneuver, cutting off and surrounding Ukrainian forces in the east.
Russian Airborne Special Forces conduct waves (ph) deep behind Ukrainian lines, including the dramatic rescue of a major pro-Russian oligarch who has been under house arrest in a Kyiv suburb. After five days of hard fighting, Russian armored columns (ph) reached the Dnieper River and surround Kyiv from the east.
Western governments announced they’re providing humanitarian aid for the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Eastern Ukraine to the west and crossing into neighboring European states.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians are reported to be sheltering in bunkers and subway stations. Others join in desperate defense of the city. Sam, war has begun, what responses does U.S. have now to punish Russia?
CHARAP: So, Dimitri, you've described the largest military action that we've seen probably since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Clearly, we'd now be going down the path of what the Biden administration has called the start high and stay high approach to economic sanctions.
That could include full blocking sanctions on Russian state-owned backs, perhaps excluding Russia from the SWIFT financial transaction systems, sanctioning the secondary market in Russian debt, and putting export controls on a variety of high-technology exports to Russia including microchips.
This could possibly cause a significant economic shock in Russia. On the other hand, it could invite Russian retaliation or create shockwaves throughout the global economy and particularly in the E.U. among (ph) -- with our European allies.
We could of course also endeavor to sanction the companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a highly symbolic piece of hardware. And the sanctions, I think, at that point would be an important political signal. On the other hand, now that Russia's effectively initiated that -- an operation to take control over Ukraine, it might not need the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as much.
Informationally, the U.S. could undertake a campaign to expose the atrocities of this war, taking the moral high ground and galvanize the international community. On the other hand, that's unlikely to sway Putin one way or the other.
Military, clearly at this point we're going to have to be contemplating significant U.S. troop increases in frontline allied states, several of which border Ukraine including Hungary, Romania, Poland, Slovakia as well as -- as well as the Baltic states in the north, which would be an important measure to assure allies. At -- while Russia's involved in a military operation, it could also prove escalatory.
We could take steps to, sort of, complicate Russia's military activity through increasing U.S. military presence in the -- in the naval domain by potentially moving Aegis-capable ships to the Black or Baltic Seas, which could hold Russian command and control nodes at risk with their cruise missiles, which would be an escalatory option perhaps but one that might get Putin's attention.
At the same time, of course, the president could be engaged directly to call for an immediate cease-fire and threatening even more significant retaliation in direct contact with his Russian counterpart. And getting the NATO allies together in the form of the North Atlantic Council to activate the NATO Response Force, and even consider withdrawing from the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which had been one of the last restraints on military activity in Europe.
ALPEROVITCH: Thank you, Sam.
So Michele, we now have war (ph) in Europe, what can the U.S. do to punish Russia?
FLOURNOY: Well, I think Sam laid out a very good set of options, and I agree with many of them.
But I would start by saying we absolutely have to counter the Russian narrative, reveal as much as possible in terms of what actually happened. Call this what it is, which is an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country in the middle of Europe.
In addition, really ramp up the diplomacy to try to make sure that we are responding together with our allies, shoulder to shoulder as much as possible.
On sanctions, I think Sam laid out a good list. I can't emphasize the importance of energy sanctions. Energy accounts for something like 36 percent of the Russian budget, almost 50 percent of its Russian exports, so a huge vulnerability for Putin. So --
ALPEROVITCH: You think beyond Nord Stream 2?
FLOURNOY: Beyond Nord Stream 2. Also cutting off financing any kind of technology transfer or (ph) support for Russian oil and gas projects more broadly.
In addition to the financial sanctions that Sam laid out on banks and so forth, sanctioning the insurance industry. So if you sanction the insurance industry their shippers can't get insurance there. It really hurts transportation and trade.
Freezing assets of any state significant Russian company that has state ownership. Significant individuals, travel restrictions on those individuals. So I think there's an even more fleshed out sanctions package that we could consider.
ALPEROVITCH: Do you worry about the Europeans being cut off from --
FLOURNOY: I do. And that's -- and that's where we really have to get our European friends to stand with us as much as possible. But the casing (ph) is even if the U.S. is willing to go a bit further, as long as they don't actively undercut or counter those sanctions, they'll still be very impactful.
I also think we really need to be creative about how do we support the Ukrainian government and military in terms of cyber resilience. Are there -- is there -- are there cyber operations we can be conducting to try to make -- complicate life for the Russians?
And then also, are there intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance capabilities/information that we can be actively sharing? Is there some way that we can be providing some advice and support from outside of Ukrainian territory to help them?
DONILON: Yes, you know, on the sanctions side, Dimitri, I think Michele makes an important point. They need to be immediate. And they need to be, as we said earlier, I think, quite large and different.
There are aspects that can be implemented here that would be different, including on technology transfer and export controls of technologies going to -- going into Russia.
PETRAEUS: Like chips.
DONILON: Like chips and other kinds -- other kinds of technology. It could be even be -- may be even consumer technology, but anything kind of derivative of American technology should be barred from going to Russia.
But the mitigation issues are really important here too on energy. And the United States should organize -- right, working with the Europeans -- a global effort to ensure that we can backfill as much as we can any sort of Russians might take with respect to energy, cutting off gas or oil.
PETRAEUS: And we've been doing that, of course. In fact, Japan, I think yesterday, agreed that it would allow diversion of a certain number of tankers of natural gas or --
DONILON: I think that's right. We certainly can scour the world. And we can -- we are the largest --
DONILON: -- producer in the world of natural gas and should look to have -- to backfilling ourselves through (ph) cargos coming from the United States, LNG cargos coming into Europe.
This support -- military support and other support in the -- in the center (ph) Europe (inaudible) -- so we obviously have -- we have an obligation to undertake to protect the security of our NATO allies in Central and Eastern Europe and throughout Europe. And we should undertake to do that.
And Putin will get here exactly what he didn't want, right, which is a -- which is a substantial increase in the infrastructure and (ph) forces of NATO on his border. And that's what will have to happen here.
And this supporting -- I think Michele's point about supporting the Ukrainians, this is a really important point here and multi-dimensional. I think it can clearly be in terms of weaponry and then to -- directed to the Ukrainian government.
But then we have the question of, if an insurgency arises, what is the role of the United States and NATO. And I would argue that the United States should undertake to support that insurgency and to do so directly.
ALPEROVITCH: Like we did in Afghanistan in the '80s.
DONILON: Yes, that's right, you know. And last of course, there's economic support for the -- for the Ukrainian -- for the Ukrainian government.
But this multi-dimensional -- this multi-dimensional effort, I think, is important particularly on the military and economic side.
MITCHELL: General Petraeus, supporting an insurgency, that gets us into a whole new situation.
PETRAEUS: Well, we have experience doing this. We've done it in a few countries --
MITCHELL: Good and bad.
PETRAEUS: -- in recent memory. Well, supporting an insurgency, we have in some cases done better than actually countering insurgencies.
But obviously it was our support to the insurgency to the mujahideen that brought down the Soviet occupation there. It had unintended later consequences certainly as well. But clearly, that should be one of the options that we're looking at.
And frankly, just determining where are they -- what's going on, what is the state of President Zelensky that's really important right now. Again, where is he? Is he determined to fight on? What about the conventional forces that have been, as we surmised been circled? What about the partisan brigades? How can we support them, reinforce them and so forth?
Another question here, I think to the intelligence community and the diplomatic community would be dealing with is, where is President Xi on all of this? Reportedly, he really does not favor this. There are Chinese interests in Ukraine. He doesn't want to see this happen.
Can we get him enlisted with the other countries that we've been talking about meeting with and ensuring that there is unity and real purpose here? Can we get President Xi to try to influence Putin in this case as well?
And then, finally, I think we have to really get across to Putin sort of what we did in the early days in Iraq. I remember calling my boss and said, hey boss, there's -- I have good news and bad news. The good news is we own Najaf. The bad news is we own Najaf, what do you want to do with it?
And I hope that from his commander on the ground, he's hearing, OK boss, we've got Kyiv circled, that's the good news. The bad news is, we're surrounded by partisans or they're all in our -- all over our lines of communication, and what do you really want us to do with this massive city? Do you really us want to get into urban combat, in this case?
So, that has to be communicated, and we should be doing this, again, backchannel. We should alert them this is going to be miserable. If you thought Afghanistan was bad for the Soviet, wait till you see Ukraine?
ALPEROVITCH: Admiral Mullen, how much do we worry about escalation with Russia? We do not want to get into war with them, obviously. How much do we worry about how they respond back?
MULLEN: Well one of the things is part of this conversation is as he has gone in now what are -- can we figure out what his objectives are? Is he actually going to go all the way? Is it the kind of thing that is focused on regime change -- which there's been a lot of discussion about that being a possibility.
So assuming that, and then that would drive what you do specifically. Certainly, our objectives would be to avoid almost at any cost a war with Russia. At the same time be possibly as -- you know, be as strong as we can.
One of the things you're hearing beyond just the NATO -- galvanizing NATO per se, there's a global -- excuse me -- there's a global aspect of this as well, from the standpoint of other allies around the world, other trading partners around the world that we need to -- you mentioned -- Dave, you mentioned Japan, that we need to get in on this in terms of pushing back on Putin and specifically letting -- you know -- making sure he understands that. And that if he's going to be a pariah at least you'll know it -- he'll know it up front. And for the long term, quite frankly, not just the short term.
And understanding on where China is on this, it's also really important to understand, as we can, and this is an intel issue, what have -- what have Xi and Putin talked about on this? What is -- what is Xi willing to do? What is he not willing to do?
Because he can get technology support from China. He can get energy support from China. So, how confident in Putin in what Xi in this improved relationship has told him he will do and support? All of those things need to be understood.
And then lastly, I would start moving forces. I mean, you can move air forces and naval forces in a direction very quickly. We talk about getting into the Black Sea like it's just easy. It isn't easy. We have to have a very strong relationship and understanding with Turkey right now. Turkey doesn't control the -- who enters through the Bosphorus Straits, but they have a big impact on that.
So Turkey's got to be onside here in order to get more forces into the Black Sea, which I would recommend, and more forces into the Mediterranean, which we can do as well.
ALPEROVITCH: You don't worry about confrontation with Russia?
MULLEN: No, no, no. I don’t at sea at this point. We have been through a lot of that. We still understand how to avoid that. I mean it’s a possibility. But I don’t think you can have the impact we’re talking about by being long range here.
PETRAEUS (ph): You know, the other big question that we have to ask is will President Xi be part of the sanctions on Russia? He’s done a deal with Russia to get natural gas directly from Russia. Will he cut that as well? If he actually supports the sanctions, and may be unlikely, certainly to be sure, but if he is willing to support sanctions, then you really have something.
Even without that these sanctions are enormous especially when you talk, what Tom underscored, the importance of again microchips and those made by U.S. technology, by our – in a sense (ph) our intellectual property. If you cut them off from that, he’ll be in a world of hurt in a pretty quick period.
MITCHELL: How many ground forces do you now send beyond the 8,500, beyond the U.S. unilateral?
MULLEN: How many do you announce? I mean, it’s hard to say. You could start in thousands more. I mean it’s not anything you can – you can move some very quickly, but it would – I think I’d try to characterize that more along the lines of a significantly increased footprint on the part of the United States, significantly increased footprint particularly in the East.
I mean, my own experience here is the Baltic’s are – they are more than a little bit nervous. I mean, on a good day they’re very concerned about Russia much less with seeing this. So how do we support them literally across the board and send the message that, whatever your line is, Putin, it’s got to end in the Ukraine at some level.
PETRAEUS (ph): It’s dangerous though. Dimitri, this is an enormously dangerous situation, right. When you have a war on the border of a number of NATO countries and you have an insurgency. It is dangerous. I think that’s right.
Although it also is important for Putin to understand -- and it really kind of takes away the rationale for what he’s up to, at least the public rationale, which is to protect Russians, right. And it (ph) all being part of the same history and culture. And to have the prospect of a tough insurgency against Ukraine really undercuts that kind of core argument that he – that he’s making beyond just the power politics argument.
I think on the sanction side there are a number of things that can be done here where China can’t backfill. And this is particularly the American related technologies which would be an area where no matter what his understandings are with China they have – they have limitations on what they can do with respect to – with respect to sanctions on Russia.
MITCHELL: Now that there is a general consensus of what first steps ought to be we’ll see how the course of this action unfolds. We’ll be right back as the situation unfolds.
MITCHELL: Welcome back to our roundtable, where we’ve left off, Russia has invaded, now controls Kyiv. Dimitri, what do we do?
ALPEROVITCH: Russia ramped anti-insurgency campaign with upmost brutality, identifying and rapidly killing the leaders of the opposition. Russian expeditionary forces land in Cuba and Venezuela, deploying S-400 missile defense systems in each country. Russia strikes a deal with Chinese semi-conductor company to supply chips necessary for its military production. It also shut down Ukraine export of neon (ph) to the U.S. semi-conductor industry, cutting off 90 percent of supplies at a time of unprecedented chip shortages. Russia stops sales of oil to the U.S., forcing Washington to choose between shutting down refineries or purchasing oil from Venezuela.
Oil and gas prices approach record highs, Russia also announces export control measures on grain, aluminum, titanium, ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nickel, palladium, forest products, including paper and wood. Food and building costs skyrocket as a result. If the Russians ban continue, inflation’s predicted to reach double digits this year, levels not experienced since the 1970’s.
There’s an announcement of a Putin-Xi phone call to express solidarity and confirm that Xi’s first trip abroad since COVID, will be to Moscow in March. It is announced that Russia’s envoy, Vice chairman of the Security Council and former president, Dmitry Medvedev has met in Belarus with a recently freed Ukraine oligarch and CE, of cling (ph) and security officials to discuss ending hostility.
A cease fire agreement is reached, conditioned on the Ukraine parliament, The Rada, approving the following amendments to the Ukraine Constitution. Ukraine will permanently reject EU and NATO memberships. Ukraine recognizes a Crimea is legally part of the Russia federation. Power will be divided between a president from the east and a prime minister from the western part of the country. And Ukraine recognizes and guarantees the autonomy of the Donbas region and grant equal status to Russian’s and Ukrainians as state languages.
A group of Ukraine oligarchs also announced the plan for finances rebuilding of the damage from the way if the Rada accept these conditions. With a minimum number of members present the Rada votes to adopt the constitutional changes, following a rushed election with no international monitors in place, a pro-Russian politician is elected from the east and a prominent oligarch from Western Ukraine is announced as prime minister. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and China and other states congratulate the new Ukraine government and echo its recognition of Crimea’s Russian territory. And Russia begins withdrawal from military formations.
MITCHELL: You’re in the Situation Room, what do you do?
PETRAEUS: Well, we're asking where the previous prime minister and president are. Where is Zelensky in particular is, he -- where is he physically, but also where is he mentally? Is he willing to lead what will now become quite a substantial insurgency if indeed that will is there?
And then the same questions, of course, about the conventional Ukrainian forces that are left. Again, there's a lot of those west of the Dnieper, there are some that are still perhaps encircled. And what about the partisan brigades?
All of that I think is ongoing. And then what are our capabilities to provide assistance to them? Something we might have looked at earlier, literally what are the authorities for the CIA when it comes to covert action Title 50 authorities?
And what can we do if the president signs a finding that allows the agency to pursue a variety of different activities, such as those we have discussed, and, frankly, some others.
FLOURNOY: I would just add on the economic side, I mean, clearly, Putin is ramping up the pressure on us. But I think we have tremendous advantage of working with allies around the world to try to mitigate some of the impacts on those Russian moves. And we have a lot we can do to ramp up the economic costs for Russia.
I mean, clearly, this is an illegitimate government. And so, this is -- this is not something that we -- and, you know, we should -- we should go along with. So now I think we switch from, you know, he's had -- achieved some of his initial objectives, now we need to play a long game of cost imposition to try to get Putin to change his calculus and withdraw.
And there are economic costs we can double down on, there are reputational costs. I mean, Putin wants more than anything to be acknowledged as the leader of a great power and to have a seat at the table internationally. We can deny him that categorically across the board.
He will face an insurgency, even if he's taken out some of the opposition leaders. I mean, you know, even if 10 percent of the Ukrainian population decides to fight, that's going to be a very substantial insurgency. And there will be very real human costs, Russian soldiers being killed, and so forth. That will -- I think could become a real problem for Putin.
And then, we haven't really talked about cyber. Trying -- we can do a lot to try to help Ukraine regain some resilience, alternative lines of communication. We can do a lot with deniable cyberattacks, you're the expert on this, to take down Russian railways, communications, all of their ability to resupply, sustain, refurbish the forces they will keep in place.
And we should also consider denial of service attacks on the Russian misinformation machine. Although there's a risk there, if they are perceived as an attack on leadership that could escalate. So we have to be careful in thinking about whether that's a good idea and exactly how to --
ALPEROVITCH: Of course, the Russians have significant cyber capabilities to attack us.
FLOURNOY: Yes, and -- which means -- and the last thing is we've got to really be doubling down on our own defenses and the public, private partnerships, and critical infrastructure areas that -- really make sure that we're resilient in the face of those attacks.
DONILON: And this critical infrastructure, a point here in the United States is a really important point. We are nowhere near where we need to be with respect to protesting (ph) our private held critical infrastructure in the United States. And it would be at risk in these -- in the event of a long-term standoff with the Russians here.
Putin would have made a choice, I mean, he's going to make a choice to engage in a long-term standoff with the West. And the price is going to be high, and we need to have the staying power to ensure that price is imposed over time.
You know, with respect to the economics steps that he took, Dimitri, that you laid out, at the end of the day, yes, he does have and they tried to prepare themselves, he has $620 -- $630 billion in reserves. But at the end of the day, a choice to engage in economic warfare between Russia and the West, Europe, and the United States is a loser for Putin at the end of the day.
That is -- that is a contest that the United States and Europe and the West will win without any doubt given the limitations of the Russian economy. I do think it's important for us to undertake to show the world what's going on.
There are, of course, open-sourced intelligence assets now here that will allow us to do that in ways that you couldn't do, right. I don't know, we'll see how much -- how well Putin understands that in this case.
It's a new world with respect to trying to undertake things that you don't think the world can see. And we should ensure that the world does see it.
And last is, of course, as Michele was indicating, he'll face a long-term insurgency, and we should prepare to support the insurgency. But it is a tough circumstance at this point, right.
We would essentially then have a standoff between the United States and the West and Europe in the heart of Europe. And one we would need to be prepared to engage in for a long time.
PETRAEUS: You know, I think we'd also be asking ourselves whether we are willing to support in a sense an insurgency or a color movement or something along those lines in Russia itself. That is his worst fear, of course, it's why he's always so paranoid about color revolutions in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
And again, I think we would at least be asking about that. And I suspect at some point we're going to start supporting some of those who are protesting against what Putin has done to take his country to war. And inevitably at a certain point to deprive them of a variety of basic services and industrial needs and so forth.
DONILON: And what does this look like in Moscow after --
DONILON: -- over a period of time? As an undertaking, it's kind of brutal attack, as you laid out, Dmitri --
DONILON: -- and what does this look like back in Moscow in terms of -- in terms of cost both in terms of blood and treasures?
DONILON: And given this significant --
MULLEN: Just one more point with respect, and, I mean, the question on insurgency inside Russia, that would certainly get not just Putin's attention but that would get Xi Jinping's attention --
MULLEN: That's his biggest vulnerability as well. And when we talked earlier, at least when I said earlier we don't want to go to war with Russia, that includes a cyberwar. Because neither one of us end up in very good shape as a result of that. And so, ratcheting that up, to Tom’s point, one our infrastructure is pretty weak, we've got a lot of work to do on that.
But ratcheting that part of this up, I think could be very, very cautious. So that just has to be done incredibly carefully specifically.
And then with respect to -- we should support insurgency. I mean, we should be very clear, actually, we should be clear now that should that occur, you know, that's something we're going to do to possibly in reality, deter him still. And you know, off-center (ph) what we're talking about here.
But then, you know, to echo what Michele said, we're in a long game now, and we can make it very painful. Actually, on him, we can make it very painful on China.
They would be painful for us as well but if it's the west -- if it's now the west and whatever we're going to call this new Cold War, that's going to be a loser as Tom said. That's going to be a loser for Putin.
MITCHELL: What are your concerns about the NATO states and the border states?
MULLEN: Well, I mean, we would have to reinforce them as much as possible. They are so -- I mean, it's almost -- you can't achieve a level where they get really comfortable because of their background where sometimes we don't understand but we would have to do an awful lot.
That would be more troops, more capabilities, more diplomacy, more engagement, more exercises if you will, you know, in their countries. Those kinds of things to reassure them that we are going to be there for them. And one of the things that this crisis has generated is U.S. leadership in NATO in a way that hasn't occurred in, you know, quite a few years.
FLOURNOY: Now irony here is that Putin if he goes this far will get exactly what he didn't want, which is a really cohesive, unified, NATO. Probably additional EU countries who want to now join NATO because they want to be under the protection agenda umbrella. And a reinforced NATO posture close to his border. So, I mean he is going to create his own exactly what he said he didn’t want.
PETRAEUS: And that (ph) underscores for me is, if you think about the debate about whether NATO expansion was ultimately in our interest. I think that the fact that Putin I think would be very, very reluctant to engage in an attack on a NATO Article V country.
And I think that in fact the NATO expansion has – I think had a stabilizing impact and has been a deterrent to what Russian might have otherwise.
MULLEN: Plus, it is also sort of what a country gets to pick for itself. You know this sovereign country can choose what alliances, you know, what treaties, what organizations they belong to. And certainly, if that’s where they want to go, we ought to support that.
PETRAEUS (ph): You know, again, what we do in an audit of what the impact of these different economic actions is by Russia and if China engages here as well. And we’re going to be scouring the world for replacements. It’s not hard to replace the crude oil that we get from Russia, we get very, very little. We can get it from Saudi Arabia if we have to and so forth.
We just need some heavy crude, and that’s out there on the market. I think (ph) markets will have spiked, we’re going to see a lot of issues with – again with inflation and trying to prevent the onset of expectations about future inflation, especially when it comes to wage growth is going to be an increasing challenge, given that we already have pressures in that regard.
You know, where are the European countries is going to be a constant question here as well particularly the German chancellor who has really stepped up. He’s very new after 15 or more years of Chancellor Merkel. He’s in Moscow today I believe, and so, again, he was in Washington, he’s been to Kyiv. President Macron and the other major leaders of European countries are going to be crucial in this effort and ensuring that they’re all in a sense together, with us, but we’re all together in this and that we’re all working to solve these issues that are created by the various sanctions against the West.
That will be very, very important.
ALPEROVITCH (ph): It’s important to remember United States is the largest producer of oil and gas in the world.
PETRAEUS (ph): Right.
ALPEROVITCH (ph): -- that’s an important strategic asset--
MULLEN (ph): We’re a net exporter (ph).
ALPEROVITCH (ph): -- and we also have the ability, I think, and Dmitri pointed out, a number of these commodities that Russia has supplied. We have the ability, I think, to backfill (ph) around the world and that’ll be an important part of the project.
MULLEN: Let me just sort of pick up on the rare metals, if you will, which Russia’s cutting off a couple of them. That is another strategic issue for us that, you know, China has a monopoly on 60 to 70 percent of those and that’s something that we’ve not done very well on historically, and we need to figure out what the right future –
ALPEROVITCH (ph): And all of it’s Europe. There’s a lot of lessons here to be learned by Europe in terms of its energy diversity. And we haven’t – we haven’t done what needed to be done frankly since 2014, 2015 (ph). We need to go ahead and do it. And all of it.
FLOURNOY: And really, so the long, long game is, you know, if we actually live through a scenario like this is to really take stake of the vulnerabilities we wish we didn’t have.
MULLEN (ph): Right.
FLOURNOY: And to address those going forward in the coming years.
MITCHELL: Dmitri Alperovitch, I want to thank you for leading this exercise. I want to thank you and when you come back to the table, we’ll all discuss lessons learned. How they came to the decisions they made today, where this leaves the U.S. We’ll be right back.
MITCHELL: Welcome back. Now that we've taken some time to digest what just played out let's turn back to the table to discuss their main takeaways from our exercise.
PETRAEUS: Well, I think the biggest one is that we need to do more. In this case clearly deterrents failed, deterrents has two components, it’s the adversaries perception of our will and our capabilities. So, the real question here I think is what more could be done and I’m sure that’s exactly what the administration is asking itself. It has done a tremendous amount as we were just discussing, laying out an awful lot, providing a lot of intelligence to the public and to the press almost real time.
And again, what more can they do when it comes to singling Russia about the pain, the penalties, the sanctions, and the responses? Because at least there are exercise, clearly, we didn’t do enough. So, what more could we in fact have done?
MITCHELL: And, Tom Donilon, right now in this exercise, Vladimir Putin controls Kyiv, control Ukraine and has toppled the government and with a false referendum replaced it with a puppet government. We’re in for a long haul here, how do we live with that?
DONILON: Yes, well a couple of things. First long term, there are lessons learned in going forward. It really does underscore the importance of U.S. leadership in Europe, no doubt. It underscores the importance of NATO for anyone who thinks that NATO doesn’t have a purpose or has lost its purpose, this exercise certainly refutes that and shows the importance of NATO at the security entity that the United States and Europeans participate in together.
You know, Andrea, I look at this, this has been kind of a continuum with Russia. Russia has been actively hostile to the United States for a while, at least since Putin came back in office in spring of 2012. And we had a step by step set of events coming up and to including the kind of exercise that we talked about today. So, the importance of NATO, the importance of U.S. leadership I think, is really kind of principle – a principal lesson here and it is a long-term investment the United States is going to have to make.
One addendum to that, I’ll have the floor (ph), is we really did for this exercise learn the importance of energy independence and diversification for Europe. And that’s really going to be an acid (ph) test going forward. As we – if we do get into a situation like this, as we engage in kind of a long-term contest with Russia.
MITCHELL: Clearly the administration has learned – lessons learned, some of the same players in 2014 did not push back hard enough and they are trying to remedy that now.
FLOURNOY: And I do think this will – this scenario reveals a lot to be learned, I agree with this notion of really looking at how could we improve deterrence in Europe going forward. Strengthen NATO and update NATO to deal with not only these kind of traditional threats but misinformation, cyber-attacks, all of the grey zone tactics that Putin likes to use. I think it’s also an opportunity to really assess both in Europe and here at home, what are our vulnerabilities that are created by our dependencies on Russia? You know, Europe in its sense of energy supplies and gas in particular, us in terms of dependency on things like titanium and rare earth. So, we should be addressing those in the futures to reduce those dependencies.
And lastly, our cyber vulnerabilities. This is a favorite tool of Vladimir Putin, we’ve seen it again and again. We have got to invest more in strengthening our own cyber resilience, so that we’re less vulnerable to the kind of threats that he’ll come at us with in the future.
PETRAEUS: Resilience is the key word here. How can we strengthen the resilience of the United States of our allies and partners really around the world in these areas that we saw Russian President Putin test us with if you will in the exercise?
MITCHELL: Mike Mullen, we end up having to live with Ukraine as it was more than a decade ago, dominated by Russia?
MULLEN: Well, I think it would be a sad outcome quite frankly for the Ukrainian people. At the same time, if that’s the outcome then I think we could do that. And as, I think we've said throughout this exercise, in for the long game. And I think Putin loses in the long game.
I -- you know -- I took away -- I mean, one of the things that I took away from this exercise is it goes to the war in Europe and how serious that potential is and where it goes. The importance of allies. NATO, we've emphasized certainly, but also globally.
And it -- you know, we've -- all of us have talked over the decades of how close the world is these days and we need to take advantage of that. The impact -- the economic impact of this, and what we don't do very well in the Sit Room, quite frankly, is we don't often think about how are we going to mitigate this action. We're going to take this action, but then what do we do to mitigate the unintended consequences of it. And I think that's an opportunity and important.
We talk about the information of warfare pieces, which is devastating, can be devastating. The vulnerability that we've had, whether it's our infrastructure or whether it's these rare minerals or those kinds of things, we really need to recognize that now and try to fix that.
The refugee crisis, I mean, I'm mindful of the refugee crisis in Syria, quite frankly, and that wave just -- it just went across Europe, and it became global. This is going to -- this is a lot more people and they're going to be coming to the west if this thing goes south.
I have said for a long time, I think Putin is the most dangerous guy on earth. And I think he's proven that in this. He's going to lose, I think, in a way that he doesn't understand, but he certainly has had that kind of impact.
And we haven't, back to Tom's point, we haven't had a good relationship with Putin since 2000. Administration after administration, we don't have that kind of communications, the opportunities with those, with the relationships to diffuse something like this before it happens. I mean, we're here, but longer-term we might try to figure out if we can reestablish a decent relationship.
DONILON: You know, and what's (ph) about Putin is that we -- and (inaudible) is an adversary and is seeking to upend the security order that's been in place since World War II. And we have to be crystal clear about.
Now, we get -- we may get in a situation, and it may be a likelihood that we are in a standoff, right, with Russia over the long haul and then we have to start to think about security arrangements of the kind that you do with adversaries. And this is something -- it's an important discussion --
MITCHELL: How long can he sustain that troop formation on these borders?
MULLEN: Longer than we think. That's been my take on him for a long time. We -- we've -- we apply western metrics to an individual like him and we say the economy's going to go south, the demographics are bad, he can't - he can't keep doing this.
He -- longer than we think. Not forever, for sure, but I think it would be foolish to think he couldn't sustain it for a significant period of time.
PETRAEUS: Which is why, again, the cost has to be driven home.
PETRAEUS: Really, it's going to be about how many bodies are coming back to Moscow and to Russia. It's going to be about the perception of his population as to whether this is actually succeeding on the ground in Ukraine or not. Was this a wise decision? Those kinds of issues, I think, are going to be what are swirling in the population.
And again, we should be asking as well is this time to bring out the reset button again? It's just possible that a crisis like this perhaps could enable an improvement of the relationship as he realizes that, perhaps, he needs an exit strategy.
MITCHELL: Well, I can't thank all of you enough for participating in this rather grim exercise. But, it's certainly sobering. And our thanks to the Dmitri Alperovitch of the Silverado Policy Accelerator Think Tank.
And right now, policymakers like around the table are considering how to respond to Vladimir Putin's next move, knowing that once shots are fired inevitably people will die on both sides. And the ripple effects will cause economic pain and suffering throughout Europe as well, of course, as here at home.
I hope we've given you an appreciation of how seriously these challenges are considered as critical decisions are made that affect all of or lives. So, thank you for watching.
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